More funny business for Sierra Mist

Soft drink seeks Web partner for expanded 'Stand Up' series

PepsiCo's Sierra Mist, which has made comedy the centerpiece of its marketing strategy since the brand launched in 2001, is planning to expand its role in discovering talent and creating original comedic content this year with an online contest for animated shorts and a multiepisode TV series based on its "Stand Up or Sit Down" comedy competition.

Sierra Mist senior marketing manager Adam Harter said Sierra Mist is planning to turn its "Stand Up or Sit Down Comedy Challenge" — which resulted in a one-hour special on TBS — into "something even bigger" this year.

"The format of the contest is going to change to make it more exciting," he said.

In November, TBS aired a one-hour special featuring the five finalists of the Sierra Mist "Stand Up" challenge performing at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival. The finalists were chosen by a panel of judges as well as MySpace voters, who viewed video clips of the 755 contestants' comedy routines online followed by a MySpace broadcast of the 10 semifinalists performing at the Improv in Hollywood.

The winner of last year's competition, Steve Byrne, won a $50,000 development deal with TBS and a multicity comedy tour at the Improv chain that is sponsored by Sierra Mist and is set for August. Harter said Sierra Mist also will be releasing a DVD of Byrne's comedy routines in September and hopes to secure him a broadcast special this year.

As a result of Byrne's appearance on the TBS special, he was cast in Ashton Kutcher's new NBC reality series "Wedding Crashers," Harter said.

"We think discovery is a powerful thing, and we're excited about being with comedians at the beginning of their career to help open doors for them and to help propel their careers," Harter said, noting that the brand benefits from allowing consumers to play a role in choosing comedic talent. "We think consumers appreciate being able to discover up-and-coming stars."

Sierra Mist hired Levity Entertainment Group to produce last year's special for TBS, which agreed to air the program and provide the $50,000 development deal to the winner as part of its partnership with Sierra Mist, which included the brand's media buy on the network. Sierra Mist is in discussions with TBS, but no deal has been signed for this year's "Stand Up" challenge.

In another move furthering its commitment to discovering new comedic talent, Sierra Mist is launching an online search in the summer for the best animated content, Harter said. A panel of professional animators will judge comedic animated shorts posted online by professional and aspiring animators.

Sierra Mist, whose advertising budget is dedicated to comedic spots with its Mist-Takes improv group, also devotes the bulk of its marketing spend to the development and sponsorship of comedic talent, content and live comedy festivals, Harter said. The brand sponsors both the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen and the Las Vegas Comedy Festival.

"Comedic entertainment is overwhelmingly the biggest platform and the biggest spend of our marketing budget," he said. "We're continuing to look for new opportunities to reach people, either where they're laughing or to give them a reason to laugh when they're not."

With the fastest-growing segment of its sales coming from Latino customers, Sierra Mist also is planning its first search for a Latino comedian this year. The brand has also extended its comedy ad campaign into Spanish-language territory with a separate comedy troupe and ads appearing on Univision and Telemundo.

Harter said comedy is effective at reaching the brand's core demographic of ages 20-29, who are feeling that life is stressful as they transition to college or their first real jobs. "It's a message that resonates with them: When things get too serious, just take a step back and find the humor," he said. "We stand for refreshment, and we think there's nothing more refreshing than laughter."
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